Something was lodged in the national consciousness tonight, it was not racism but horror at the thought of it. The BNP have won two seats – yet this was not a surprise, nor is it a sign of a worrying trend. They won because of apathy alone, not public support nor sympathy.
The BNP have had perfect conditions to gain ground. There could be no situation that would have suited them better in British politics.
As Hannah Arendt writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, those attracted to far right parties are atomised members of society who are not won over by argument but by crude slogans and racism. This is true, yet I don’t believe all those who voted for the BNP are racist. Arendt also notes that these parties win over those hurt by recession and disaffected with the political status quo. I believe this to be why the BNP gained ground.
Two crises have shaken this country, two crises that have hurt the poorest people in this country, often with the worst education and with great reason to feel antagonised and ignored by the major parties who sought their vote.
Recession turns people pessimistic, it turns them against others. This has certainly been proven true. Yet the BNP do not proclaim their racism – they have won seats by trying to dispel it. Of course, the BNP are hideously racist and ignorantly bigoted, as just a glance at their membership policy shows. If only there had been more interviews earlier, their arguments are easily pulled apart.
The Westminster expenses scandal gave little option in these elections. The Labour party campaigned not on their own merits but mostly as a ‘stop the BNP’ ticket. This brought the BNP publicity but failed to refute their ‘message’ – which is hopelessly confused. They’ll gain a political platform and highlight their ignorance – if only it had been uncovered earlier by granting them more of a media platform instead, as I have already written in more detail.
So I’m not concerned by the BNP gaining two MEPs, except for a moment’s shame in thinking how Britain is represented to our friends and allies in Europe. In the most perfect conditions for a far right upsurge, Britain overwhelmingly rejected intolerance because of an ingrained sense of fair play. As I see the responses of friends and doubtless when I read the newspapers tomorrow, I’ll feel proud of our disgust at the BNP’s gain. But it is not a big gain, nor does it grant them credibility – their policies and beliefs will always leave them on the fringe of politics. We’re in a political downturn as well as an economic one, but we’ll recover. This is not a watershed moment in British politics and though I’m sad to see they gained two seats, I am not ashamed.